Noel Frost, head of global enforcement at Siemens Mobility Limited explains how and why School Streets should be rolled out across the UK.
Recent research published by City Hall in London showed that since 2016, air quality in the capital has significantly improved.
The data shows that even before the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was felt, with travel significantly reduced during the first UK lockdown, measures that had been implemented were already helping transform Londons air.
It also revealed that from 2016, the number of state primary and secondary schools located in areas exceeding legal pollution limits had fallen by 97% – from 455 schools to just 14.
Safety, health and wellbeing continue to be high priority for schools.
To ensure the safety of younger children, School Street zones are increasingly being introduced outside primary schools.
These enforcement zones not only reduce road danger, but also improve air quality in the immediate environs of the school and encourage behavioural change, with a shift to walking and cycling leading to improved physical health and mental wellbeing.
First introduced in Scotland in 2015, a School Street zone draws on powers given to local authorities under the Road Traffic Regulations Act to turn a street into a pedestrian and cycle zone.
During the key drop-off and pick-up periods in term time, temporary restrictions are imposed and enforced on both school and through traffic on a road (or roads) outside a school, to provide a safer and healthier school environment.
While there are pockets of School Streets schemes already up and running across England, Scotland and Wales, the vast majority of schemes already installed, or planned, are in and around London, leaving school children in the rest of the UK unable to benefit from cleaner air and safer travel to and from their school.
This is largely because at present, only London boroughs can enforce the School Streets scheme through the use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to detect non-compliant vehicles using the road.
Currently, local authorities outside London do not have the powers to enforce moving traffic offences, including School Streets, with enforcement responsibility in these areas sitting with the police.
As a result, the only real option outside London for School Streets schemes is for local authorities to implement physical barriers such as bollards or removable gates to enforce a temporary road closure, solutions which are much less sophisticated and less flexible than an ANPR camera-based system.
However, this situation will potentially change this year, with the government planning to amend elements of the Traffic Management Act 2004 to allow local authorities to enforce moving traffic offences, such as disregarding School Streets regulations.
This will allow councils outside London to implement School Streets schemes that draw on ANPR camera technology and will give pupils the opportunity to enter and leave the school in a healthier and safer way.
Evidence from the first four schools to benefit from School Streets schemes in the London Borough of Hackney showed that traffic reduced on average by 68%, the number of children cycling to school increased by 51% and vehicle emissions outside schools (nitrogen oxides, and particulate matters PM10 and PM2.5) fell by 74%.
The Siemens Mobility system, which has been deployed by a number of authorities, including Hackney, provides the ideal solution for School Streets projects, delivering robust and reliable equipment, which is quick to install to keep disruption to an absolute minimum.
The companys LaneWatch automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras are at the heart of the solution.
The designated area is typically just one road with a camera at the start and end of the zone, but multiple roads can be covered by the installation of more cameras.
Each camera is configured to monitor vehicles entering the area during specified periods, as part of a seven-day configurable schedule of enforcement.
The system accurately identifies potential contraventions in real-time, with video evidence recorded to give a contextual overview, and still images capturing each vehicles registration plate.
The overview video allows the system operators to establish if there are any extenuating circumstances for the contravention.
The results from School Streets schemes in London show just how effective these enforcement programmes can be in driving behaviour change.
Although Siemens Mobility delivers a range of clean air programmes, such as Londons Ultra Low Emission Zone, targeted schemes like Schools Streets have a significant impact and make a major contribution to improving road safety, air quality and the health of our children.
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